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Allegations — Man accuses church of allowing sexual abuse by Northwest Yearly Meeting of Friends youth superintendent between 1987 and 1991

PORTLAND — A lawsuit filed July 17 in Multnomah County Circuit Court alleges that child sexual abuse occurred in the Friends (Quaker) church in Newberg from approximately 1987 to 1991.

The plaintiff, referred to by his initials “A.J.” in the suit, claims to have been sexually abused by former Northwest Yearly Meeting of Friends youth superintendent Bruce Bishop when the youth was between the ages of 11 and 16 years old.

The suit makes five legal claims, including sexual exploitation and abuse and/or battery of a child, breach of fiduciary duty, intentional infliction of distress and negligence.

The suit seeks $4 million in noneconomic damages, as well as economic damages, loss of earning capacity and legal costs. It also states the plaintiff’s intent to include a claim for punitive damages.

The suit, filed by Portland firm Kafoury & McDougal, does not expressly state where the alleged abuse took place, but names Newberg Friends Church (officially the Newberg Monthly Meeting of Friends) and its regional denomination, the Northwest Yearly Meeting of Friends (NWYM), among seven total defendants. The NWYM’s parent organizations, the Evangelical Friends Church – North America and the Evangelical Friends Church International Council, are also named as defendants.

The suit does not name Bishop, who, according to the plaintiff’s attorney, Mark McDougal, was never criminally charged, as a defendant, but rather three of the charges are “respondeat superior,” meaning that the church and denomination were responsible for Bishop’s actions because they were done in the course of his employment by them.

Both Newberg Friends Church pastor Gregg Koskela and NWYM superintendent Becky Ankeny declined to comment, citing advice from counsel regarding pending litigation. Ankeny said that NWYM had not been officially served notice of the suit as of Friday, but had been made aware of it. Attempts to contact Bishop for comment were unsuccessful as well.

The suit alleges 12 specific activities with which Bishop engaged the plaintiff in order to “arouse and gratify his own sexual desires and manipulate A.J. in order to sexually groom and control A.J.,” including directing the plaintiff and other male youths to be naked together in Bishop’s presence, masturbating with the plaintiff, having him pray to become a virgin again, teaching him how to prolong masturbation, and rubbing the plaintiff’s chest and genitals.

According to the official minutes of the NWYM’s annual conference, Bishop was employed as youth superintendent from 1987 to 2004, after which he served the organization in several capacities, including as communications coordinator beginning in 2008.

According to the minutes from the organization’s conference in July 2010, Bishop was terminated “after information came to light regarding an improper relationship between Bruce and a minor in 1991.” It is not clear when in 2010 the NWYM received the allegations, only that it was prior to its summer conference, which, each year, is normally referred to as the Northwest Yearly Meeting and held in Newberg in late July.

In an email to the Graphic following initial publication of this story, Ankeny stated that Bishop’s ministry credential, referred to in the Friends Church as a “recording,” was suspended immediately in 2010 and that he surrendered it permanently.

The minutes from 2010 state that Bishop “immediately confirmed the allegations when confronted,” and that then NWYM superintendent Colin Saxton and staff investigated whether there might have been others, but at that time indications pointed to the “1991 relationship” being an “isolated incident.”

Information from later conferences, however, indicate that the plaintiff may not have been Bishop’s only victim.

The NWYM’s board of elders announced at the 2010 meeting that it had assigned a three-person care committee to “walk with Bruce during the year.”

According to the minutes from the 2011 conference, it was stated that Bishop also met weekly with a counselor and that, six months prior at the NWYM midyear board meeting, Bishop “expressed his sorrow and repentance, and the elders forgave him.”

At the 2014 conference, it was recorded that Bishop completed a “restoration” process. Bishop expressed his desire for transparency so as to prevent suspicion that he would have “inappropriate powers over others,” and would only accept any interpersonal ministry with the approval of the elders of his local congregation at North Valley Friends Church.

According to the minutes, the board of elders recognized that some in the church may feel that further restrictions on Bishop after completing his restoration would devalue “God’s mercy and grace,” but that “others may feel that allowing Bruce any public ministry devalues his victims.”

The board expressed its trust in Bishop’s “contrition and his commitment to live faithfully in the future,’ but at the same time, recognized “the prudence — for legal, financial and other reason — to place reasonable limits on his ministry.”

According to Ankeny, “Quakers believe that all are ministers,” and that the references to ministry by the elders were in that context, not that of public or credentialed ministry.

Bishop co-owns a business and, ostensibly, still attends church in Newberg at North Valley Friends.

Less is known about the plaintiff, including where he now resides or if he ever made these allegations public before.

“There’s reason to believe there may be other victims based on those minutes,” Kafoury& McDougal attorney Adam Kiel said. “That’s part of why our client does want the public to know.”

The suit was filed five days before the plaintiff’s 40th birthday, which represents the statute of limitations for child sex abuse cases in Oregon. It was done in Multnomah County because it allows filing by initials in some cases to protect privacy.

“Yamhill County has no such rule and our client wanted to be afforded that level of privacy,” Kiel said. “The other thing is that the defendants do have contact, quite a few, in Multnomah County, so it does make it a proper venue.”

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